US 1 in Florida, Part 1:  Down from the North

Text: Ile Kauppila • Photography: Chris Myers

The US 1 stretches across 545 miles throughout the entire length of Florida along its eastern shore, from the northern border with Georgia to the southernmost tip of the continental U.S. in Key West. It was designated the first U.S. highway when the Numbered Highways System was rolled out in 1926. While Floridian roads are infamous for their lack of curves, the ride down US 1 is far from dull. The sheer length of the route offers ample opportunities for proactive riders to make their own fun, or just enjoy Florida’s vibrant scenery.

The northern stint of the road—from Folkston, GA, to Melbourne, FL—spans roughly 250 miles of varying landscapes. Entering Florida from the north, US 1 carries you through wooded, rural farmland southeast toward Jacksonville. Passing the city, pine trees give way to Florida’s many swamps and waterways. The road is a paradise for nature nuts, as it passes by or straight through several nature preserves that make for great camping, hiking, and fishing grounds. Historic plantations and other sites are also generously scattered throughout the ride, often smack-dab in the middle of delightfully dank swampland.

But if bugs and mud make your skin crawl, don’t fret. On the east coast of Florida, you’re never too far from civilization. That also means you can pack light for the ride. The already mentioned Jacksonville is Florida’s largest city, with museums, shops, and restaurants galore. While this stint doesn’t reach Miami, it will pass by the warm, white sands of Daytona Beach, where you can wash off the dust of the trail with a dip in the Atlantic. Even staying on the road—which runs parallel to the I-95 between the interstate and the beach—will give you glimpses of the ocean in places where the trees and beachfront properties are less dense.

The route ends in Melbourne, roughly the midway point between Daytona Beach and West Palm Beach. It might not be Florida’s prime tourist attraction, but that is precisely what makes it such a perfect rest stop before heading further south to the tropics of the Keys.